Gateway boys soccer players learning from early-season tests

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Sunday, September 17, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys soccer team has been up and down and everywhere in between so far in Section 4-3A play.

They took care of business against Penn Hills and McKeesport, suffered tough losses to section powers Franklin Regional and Plum, and forged a key tie against a Penn-Trafford team they finished tied with in last year’s section standings.

It all added up to a 2-2-1 section record heading into another key section matchup last Thursday against Latrobe at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

“We’ve had a number of emotional games, and the guys have learned and grown from each one,” first-year Gators coach Mike Rugh said.

Gateway was to face Obama Academy on Tuesday to conclude the first cycle of section play before beginning the second half of the section slate Thursday at Penn Hills.

Points are valuable in the section, and the Gators scored one against a Penn-Trafford team Aug. 31 which was looking to finish off a victory.

However, junior captain Nick LoCoco took advantage of a penalty whistled against the Warriors and converted a penalty kick with 30 seconds left to tie the game 2-2 and send it to overtime.

“There was a little bit of desperation there,” Rugh said.

“We had a free kick, and we played it short. Nick beat a guy, and the guy took him down. It was nice to see us fight back and show some resilience. We were down 2-0 in the first eight minutes of the game.”

Freshman Cam Simon scored in the first half to bring Gateway to within one at halftime.

Senior Blake Marsh tallied a hat trick, and LoCoco and junior midfielder Owen Echegaray added scores in a 5-2 win over Penn Hills to begin section play.

Rugh said his team didn’t have the number of chances it hoped for in the 1-0 loss at Franklin Reigonal on Sept. 7 and let the score get away from them in a 5-0 setback to Plum last Tuesday.

“The result against Franklin Regional was a reflection of just how well (FR’s) defense played,” Rugh said.

“We’re working on changes to see if we can attack a little more as a group. But between (senior goalkeeper) Jack (Kweder), (senior) Will Hansmann and (junior) Vincent Vagni, those guys were my men of the match against Franklin. They defended their butts off. Jack made some incredible saves to keep it 1-0.

“Plum always graduates some talented kids, and they might lose some others, but they always have good players coming up. They have that winning mentality. Sometimes, when we play Plum, we need to shift our mentality to more of a belief on our part.

“Both Franklin Regional and Plum have to come to our place next time with a mini homestand (Oct. 3 and 5), and hopefully we can get a result or two in our favor.”

Rugh said a number of younger players, including some freshmen, are getting their shot to make a difference on varsity.

Simon added to his goal against P-T with a hat trick in an 8-1 win over McKeesport on Sept. 5.

“Cam is going to be a future star for Gateway soccer,” Rugh said.

“He’s gaining more and more confidence every day. He’s stepped in and played so well, like a veteran, to be honest. He’s a very smart player with his awareness on the field and his footwork.”

Rugh said he continues to be high on freshman right back Max Fry who has gotten a lot of experience as a starter through the first six games.

“He’s taken his lumps and a few hits, but it is making him a tougher player back there,” Rugh said.

“You can already see that he is maturing and also gaining a lot of confidence.”

Rugh also pointed to freshman midfielder Amar Murrell-Merriwether who has given the team some key minutes off the bench.

“It just comes down to getting him more comfortable with the pace of a varsity game,” Rugh said. “None of those guys are afraid to get in there and stick their neck out for the good of the team.”

Before jumping into section play, Gateway opened with a match against Hampton, the No. 2 team in the latest Trib HSSN Class 3A rankings.

The Gators got a goal from Echegaray, but the Talbots tallied the first two and held off a late Gateway charge for the one-goal win.

“We put some nice pressure on them at the end of the game but just couldn’t find the equalizer,” Rugh said.

“We played a really solid game all-around against one of the top teams in the WPIAL. Last year’s game against them went into overtime. It was good to play a game like that early. It really tested us and allowed us to see where we stood.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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